The issuing of a section 114 notice is thankfully a very rare event. The issuing of multiple section 114 notices one after another is essentially unprecedented. The position Croydon Council is in today can justifiably be described as the worst ever to reach this stage.
As yet there is not a plan on the table that balances the books. As such, we are trapped into reissuing the notice every 21 days until the government agrees to help. That help, if it comes, will result in even more borrowing and ongoing interest payments that will negatively affect service provision for decades to come. But it appears our only hope right now.
In February of this year at a meeting of cabinet I suggested that the council was carrying too much risk and borrowing compared to its level of reserves. The responses that came back from the Labour leadership were that I was scaremongering and that the huge borrowing levels were prudent and well managed, they were investments that were producing significant income that was supporting frontline services and transformation was reducing future demand.
EVERY one of these reassurances was FALSE.
How could this situation possibly have happened? How can a public body have been THIS bad?
We can’t ask the former leader, he stepped down and is now hiding on the back benches where we can’t question him. We can’t ask the former finance lead, he stepped down too and is also hiding. We can’t even ask the former Chief Executive, she’s gone, along with a huge pay off all conveniently organised by the former Labour leadership before they stood down themselves. If this all sounds like people covering their tracks then you could be forgiven for thinking so.
I welcome the fact that this notice was issued, it was an important step in the very difficult process of Croydon getting through its current predicament. It has drawn closer scrutiny of the council and is helping to cast a light into some very dark corners. But there are other important steps still to complete.
We MUST be told how this happened. We MUST be told WHO caused it as well. I have heard Cllr Ali issuing her ‘apology’ a number of times now. She is ‘sorry the council finds itself in this position’! That’s not an apology! I have two children and as is the nature of children, sometimes they would fight, and afterwards, apologies were needed. My children never said ‘I’m sorry a child was hurt’ – they said ‘I’m sorry I hurt my brother’ - even when they were very young they understood that accepting PERSONAL responsibility is key to an apology and a real apology is essential before you can move on. We will not let this go. Tell us what happened, who did it and apologise for your part in it. A general ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t good enough.
Another step is for us to have full confidence that we have all the information and know the FULL extent of the financial mess. As yet we do not have that confidence and will not until the investigations into Brick by Brick and the other companies have fully run their course.
Most of the recommendations we see before us today in relation to the Section 114 notice are ones that I can support and it is refreshing to see bad news more candidly spelled out than previously, but one of the learnings that I have had to accept from this process is never to trust a Labour administrations financial plans. I’ve made that mistake before. I will not do so again.
The scale of the challenge facing the council is vast and unprecedented, but the political leadership of the council seem more interested in protecting the very people who caused it than focusing on generating the solution. The measures they put in place before the issuing of this notice did not produce enough results and did not move fast enough. More change is desperately needed.
In summary, the position we are in today is a disaster. For the residents of Croydon who will pay higher taxes and have their services cut, for the employees of the council who have had to endure an incompetent and bullying administration and will now bear the brunt of the consequences. And also for the reputation of our town, the name Croydon will become synonymous with financial incompetence and failure. Croydon Labour, this IS your fault. At least have the decency to admit it!
Croydon Deserves Better.
Thank you Madam Mayor.